Line of work? Fighting international terrorism

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Published: March 10,2003

DIAMONDHEAD — Prior to the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks, Mike Byrd of Diamondhead was another one of the men in blue working hard, doing his duty. But now the former task force agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration owns one of the more unusual businesses in the state.

Global Consulting Group (GCG) provides services to help recover or rescue kidnap victims in volatile foreign countries, and a full array of anti-terrorist training for government, as well as private businesses.

“If you had told me two years ago I would be doing what I’m doing today, I would have laughed in your face,” Byrd said. “I found the job of being a law enforcement officer very rewarding. But with political climate that tends to be associated with law enforcement agencies in the South, there are more opportunities doing what I do.”

The threat of terrorism and other security issues are keeping companies like Byrd’s busy.

“Americans feel very threatened by terrorist activity,” he said. “But there are a lot of people out there who tend to question what you do. They wonder if you are a Rambo or a warmonger. You tend to walk away from them because they will never understand what you do. You do it because of your patriotism and your obligation to your country. I did two deployments to Afghanistan because of that. It isn’t that I like to go out there and put myself in harm’s way.”

Byrd said the bread and butter of what he does is the training classes offered to federal agencies and to local police and sheriff’s departments across the country. Demand for that kind of training escalated drastically after Sept. 11.

“Initially the biggest demand was for air marshal training,” said Byrd, who has trained hundreds of air marshals. “After that it was completely wide open with the federal government as well as local and county law enforcement agencies begging for training from people with experience in areas ranging from weapons of mass destruction to VIP executive protection, and everything in between. The demand has definitely escalated since Sept. 11.”

For example, the Naval Criminal Investigative Services contracted with Global Consulting Group to provide training in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, for training such as defensive-evasive driving and tactical firearms.

“They are finding the need for a lot more protective operations for high-ranking military officials,” Byrd said. “They need skills such as defensive-evasive driving so if they are in a motorcade and get attacked, they have the skills to drive evasively and get themselves out of that situation.”

Because of the volatile state of the world, more corporations are becoming proactive in providing protection to executives and other employees who may be at risk.

“Corporations see the liability of not providing their employees with at least some standard of protection,” Byrd said. “What they are finding is that they either need training for people who work for the company providing protection, or they need to contract out to get protection for the corporate executives and all the way down the line.”

Byrd solicits employees for his business on his Web site. While weapons training and experience are important, attitude and language skills are equally important considerations. Byrd speaks Spanish along with some Russian and some Farsi picked up from some of his trips.

“Language skills are imperative,” said Byrd, who lived with his family in Madrid, Spain, for four years while his father was working for the U.S. Department of Defense. “When we went to Bogata, Columbia, recently to get three reporters, I was the only member of the team who spoke Spanish. Without that, we would have had trouble getting around. If you spend any time in a country, you need to pick up as much language as you can. Language skills are very important. When we pick people for overseas assignments, the first thing we look at is their languages.”

What he is looking for is someone with a comprehensive background. They need people who are calm under stress, and have the necessary skills that can range from being a paramedic to experience as a former member of the Special Forces.

Often it is more important to be able to navigate a foreign government’s custom’s regulations than it is to be able to fire a weapon or evade pursuit in a car chase. Having good skills dealing with people is another critical skill.

“Being a people person is an extremely important quality that we look for,” Byrd said. “It is not all Rambo and going out to do what we call ‘direct action missions.’ A lot of what we do tends to be logistical, facilitating being able to go through certain foreign government’s immigration and customs. It is important just knowing how to talk to people and how to read a person. You also need to have experience in how a country operates, and who to go to when you need a certain thing.”

The work keeps Byrd and his colleagues on the road most of the time. In the past year Byrd estimates he was home a total of a month and a half. And while he travels frequently to foreign country, there is also need for his services in the U.S.

“Businesses need to learn that in this heightened state of awareness because of terrorist activity, you never know where these ‘sleeper cells’ are,” Byrd said. “They could be anywhere from Los Angeles to New York or Gulfport. Corporations that deal with chemicals that can be harnessed to make weapons of mass destruction need to take a proactive approach to more stringent security measures. If anything was to happen and it could be gleaned over time they did not have adequate measures of security, they could be held liable.”

Large chemical companies have more resources and usually can afford better security than smaller companies. The smaller “mom and pop” chemical companies present an attractive target for terrorist or criminals as a result. Recently, U.S. 49 in North Gulfport and the Biloxi-Gulfport airport were shut down as a result of the theft of anhydrous ammonia from a small company, Channel Chemical Corp., near the airport. Police believe the incident that resulted in evacuations of nearby neighborhoods occurred because of a botched attempt to steal the anhydrous ammonia in order to make illegal methamphetamine drugs.

“Mom-and-pop chemical companies possess the same chemicals as bigger corporations, but are a much easier target,” Byrd said. “Terrorists or criminals will take the path of least resistance. What happened in Gulfport is a good example. This place was the least protected, so they went with the path of least resistance. The term we use is ‘hardening your target.’ You make your facility as hardened as possible and plug any holes you can to make your facility as difficult as possible to get into to breach your security.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com</a.

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